The .410 shotgun - versatile and efficient

By N. Bird.

The .410 shotgun is so well known as to require little introduction, there can be few experienced shooting men who have not owned or used one of these diminutive weapons at sometime. However, despite the popularity of the .410, I believe that this is a weapon that is greatly misunderstood.

The debate concerning the suitability of the .410 as a first gun for the very young shooter is familiar to most sportsmen. Briefly, the arguments for and against are as follows; the .410's devotees claim that the weapon is small, light, easily manageable and has little perceptible recoil, the critics maintain that the gun is ballistically unsuitable for all-round shooting, having poor patterns and limited range, which causes much unnecessary wounding of quarry and can cause the novice to become disillusioned with his lack of success.

Although I started my shooting career with a .410, I tend to side with the latter school of thought. I believe that if a youngster is old enough to shoot then he is old enough to use a 28-bore of preferably a 20-bore with light loads.

While the .410 falls short of the mark as a game gun, except in the hands of a few experts, it is certainly very useful as a gun for vermin control and rabbit shooting in close cover.

I have used a .410 extensively for many years and have found it excellent for taking most vermin such as rat, grey squirrel, pigeon (feral and wood), and members of both the crow and weasel families.

As a gun for close range rabbit shooting, such as in thick cover or when ferreting, the .410 has much to commend it. However, it is my view that a double barrel .410 is necessary for this work in order to minimize the chance of a wounded rabbit kicking itself down a hole.

Originally the .410 was designed to fire a 2 in. cartridge loaded with approximately 5/16 oz. of shot. Later weapons were produced to handle a longer 2 in. cartridge load with 7/16 oz. or, as is common today, oz. of shot. Most modern .410's are chambered for 3 in. cartridges which can be loaded with up to oz. I am not keen on the 3in. cartridge, its long shot column and the very high pressures produced are not conducive to good pattern quality. My favorite ammunition for general vermin control and rabbit shooting is the Winchester 2 in. cartridge with oz. load and crimp closure. While for shooting in buildings, most brands of 2in. cartridge will be suitable, such as Eley or Gevelot. On the subject of Eley, I have found that the quality control often leaves much to be desired especially in the area of the rolled turnover.
The Winchester ammunition will kill cleanly out to around 25 yards while the 2in. ammunition is useful up to approximately 20 yards.

Much depends on the skill of the user for the majority of .410 barrels are bored full choke, which necessitates that a reasonable standard of marksmanship is required. I believe that it would be possible to improve the performance of the .410 by simply loading the cartridges with a more compatible shot size. No. 5 and no. 6 shot, the sizes most frequently on the gun shop shelves, are far too large for the .410. Such sizes retain individual pellet penetration power and shocking energy far in excess of the range where pattern quality fails.

oz of the no. 5 shot numbers 110 pellets, the pellets power is maintained to more than twice the distance of adequate pattern density. oz of the no. 9 shot contains approximately 290 pellets, such a load offers a far more balanced performance where pellet energy and pattern are more evenly matched. By using this latter load you would effectively extend the range of the .410 by quite a few yards, yet such ammunition is almost impossible to buy. Perhaps some enterprising manufacturer could produce a cheap, reliable loading machine for the .410 user, enabling him to load ammunition superior to the factory cartridges, and at the same time, saving him money, for .410 cartridges are prohibitively expensive when compared to other ammunition.

On the subject of cartridges, one anomaly, which .410 ammunition is particularly susceptible is to shot 'balling'. This phenomenon, where the shot welds itself into a solid ball and becomes potentially lethal at many times the normal range is often caused by faulty wads, which allow hot powder gasses to slip past and affect the shot.

I once had a batch of ammunition which 'balled' repeatedly. It took many inexplicable misses and some excessively damaged quarry before I discovered that the cartridges were faulty. Following this discovery I decided to conduct a simple test, I found that the rogue cartridges would easily penetrate a thick wooden board at 80 yards. Needless to say I destroyed the remainder of the batch.

I believe that the tendency for .410 ammunition to malfunction in this manner, and to some extent the use of excessively large shot in the .410 cartridge, explains the ridiculous claims made by some people about the range of their weapons. Claims of shooting game at 50 or 60 yards with a .410 clearly indicate that either the shot 'balled' or that the quarry died from a single pellet fluke or, more likely, that the story teller cannot judge distance.

An Interesting variation on the .410 is the .410 adapter, such as the one produced by Webley and Scott. These devices are a short barrel (5 in. long) which are inserted into a 12 bore chamber in the manner of inserting a cartridge. This then enables .410 ammunition to be fired through the weapon. I used an adapter in the left barrel of a 12 bore for squirrel shooting and found it effective up to 12 yards.

During the first quarter of this century shot pistols were very common in this country. Many were the saloon type firing Flobert rimfire ammunition, but .410 pistols were also readily available. Most of these weapons originated from Liege in Belgium and were imported along with the single barrel, skeleton stocked, folding .410's still common today. These pistols were very handy weapons to own in those pre-myxomatosis days, and surely accounted for numerous rabbits. I remember reading a book entitled 'Gun Fun and Hints' where the author describes using a .410 pistol to kill rats running along beams in farm buildings. My enthusiasm was suitably kindled , but it was not until some time later that I had the opportunity to try one of these pistols. The gun in question was not one of the normal cheap imports but bore the name "Midland Gun Company" along the barrel. Whether this firm, respected for producing reliable, robust, weapons actually built the pistol I do not know, but it was of excellent quality.
Featuring a chocked single barrel, semi-hammer action and a finely chequered saw handle butt, this pistol proved more than adequate for stopping rabbit when I tried it. Such weapons of course require a Firearms Certificate, because their barrel length falls below the limit covered by a Shotgun Certificate. It is a shame that these weapons are not more easily available for they are very versatile and handy, especially to the pest controllers and keepers.

Of all the shotguns in regular use today the .410 lends itself most readily to the fitting of a silencer, or as they are now referred to, sound moderator. These devices are a simple tube containing an expansion chamber, followed by a series of baffle plates and air pockets. On firing the expanding gasses which propel the shot, are diverted and to some extent contained by the silencer, while the charge continues through the central hole. This containment of gasses can reduce the guns report by up to 70% plus in ideal circumstances and with the correct ammunition.

.410/Silencer combinations are extensively used by pest controllers and offer many advantages over the unsilenced weapon, such as, causing minimum alarm among other quarry and livestock and with little disturbance to local residents. Keepers can also take advantage of these combinations during the times of the year when the coverts are best not disturbed unduly. So there we have it, the .410 can be a versatile and efficient weapon when used for its intended purposes, but not only are they effective there is something intrinsically appealing about these charming little guns which makes them a pleasure to use.

N. Bird 1987